It is possible to take the middle ground

Leonard Pitts Jr.: Syndicated columnist

I’m not sure Rush Limbaugh is, as the title of the best-selling book would have it, “a big, fat idiot.” The man has, after all, lost a considerable amount of weight in recent years.
But he is a major reason I’d rather hammer a spike through my ears than subject them to talk radio. Not because I disagree with his politics, though I doubt he and I could reach consensus on what day of the week it was. What makes Limbaugh an irritant on the order of gum boils, though, is not his opinions, but his stridence. He is a bumper sticker without the subtlety.
In this, he is hardly unique.
To the contrary, conservative punditry has produced a bumper crop of such people in recent years, folks so utterly predictable in their hard-right extremism that you know exactly what they’re going to say well before they say it.
Liberal orthodoxy has lately begun generating a bumper crop of its own through a spate of books with titles like the one quoted above. In addition, there is the new Air America radio network, which, some people hope, will give liberals the same platform for diatribe conservative broadcasters have enjoyed for years.
The liberal folk would argue they are simply punching back after serving as punching bags for the better part of a generation. And while you can hardly blame them for that, you still have to wonder if, in the long run, the quality of public discourse is really improved just because somebody is hollering at us from the other direction for a change. Noise is still noise, whatever its origin.
Meantime, it feels like middle ground is shrinking faster than the Amazonian rainforest.
That’s distressing for those of us who live there. More to the point, those of us who remain unconvinced that either ideology enjoys a monopoly on right — or wrong.
So you can imagine my amusement at Bre’r Rush’s recent legal woes. Not that his or anybody’s drug addiction and possible prosecution are laughing matters. Still, it’s been entertaining to see a fellow whose previous prescription for drug abuse was a stint in the gray bar hotel suddenly adopt the language of rehabilitation and self help.
And the fact that Limbaugh’s lawyers argued in court last week against the police seizure of his medical records on the grounds that his constitutional right to privacy was violated: Priceless. Especially considering it is an article of conservative faith that no such right exists.
I’m tempted to refer to all this as “the education of Rush Limbaugh,” except that I doubt such a thing is possible. The better analogy is of water falling onto a rock. It’s nice but it doesn’t noticeably affect the rock.
The moral, then, is less for Limbaugh than for the rest of us and it is simply this: For goodness sake, “think.”
That’s something many of us are loathe to do.
It always amazes how, when I write about the mistreatment of people of color, I get a raft of e-mails decrying the whining of “you liberals.” If I turn around and write one criticizing people of color for not doing more on their own behalf, the same people suggest that some radical change has come over me. “Welcome to the world of conservative thought,” one person wrote. As if the opinions were mutually exclusive.
Some people live in a world of stark either or, this or that. Bound by ideology, they lack the flexibility, imagination and intellectual agility to reason their way through life’s contradictions and complexities.
Limbaugh and others have made piles of money from the existence and cynical exploitation of such people.
But what gives me optimism is my conviction that most of us are not rigid ideologues. Most of us are reachable by reason. Most of us willingly work to figure out what the right thing is.
And no, most of us will never see piles of money from it.
On the other hand, I guarantee you we’ll feel the water when it falls.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Readers may contact him at:
lpitts@herald.com